It's a (non)move that likely sets the stage for Byrd's departure from the team. The last thing the Bills need as they try to erase their long playoff drought is the loss of an impact defender, but unfortunately for the Bills in this case their hands were all but tied.
It's been a contentious year or so for the Bills and Byrd. After intercepting the most passes (five) since his breakout rookie season and being named to his second Pro Bowl in 2012, Byrd entered the 2013 offseason looking to cash in on that success in a big way.
However, no progress was made in early talks, so the Bills quickly moved to slap the franchise tag (at a cost of $6.9 million) on the then-26-year-old.
It didn't sit well with Byrd, who held out well into training camp while making his contract demands well-known, according to Adam Benigni of WGRZ:
Byrd finally caved and signed his franchise tender in mid-August only to have a foot injury hamper him severely as the season got underway.
Byrd missed the first five games of the 2013 season, but even after he returned to the lineup the specter of his contract still hung over the team like a dark cloud.
In fact, one week before Byrd's return, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the Bills were amenable to trading Byrd:
Bills know wisest course of action is to trade franchise S Jairus Byrd and they now are open to dealing him, per sources. Talks ongoing.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 6, 2013
Of course, nothing came of it, and by season's end Byrd had picked off four passes and earned his third trip to Honolulu.
Per Pro Football Focus
As the NFL season drew to a close, general manager Doug Whaley told Chris Brown of the Bills' website the team planned to make every effort to keep Byrd in the fold:
We just finished putting the map out on our plan for the offseason right before we came down here [to January's Senior Bowl]. [Senior Vice President of Football Administration] Jim Overdorf is getting some paperwork together and we’re going to send out some offers to our free agents and go from there.
However, the Bills and Byrd were once again unable to agree to terms, and as recently as two weeks ago, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com indicated the Bills were set to apply the franchise tag to Byrd again:
The #Bills still want to do a deal with S Jairus Byrd. If not, I’m told they plan to franchise tag him. Won’t let him get away for nothing— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 22, 2014
For whatever reason, the Bills decided against that course of action, and now if a new deal isn't struck by the end of the week, Byrd will hit the open market on March 11.
And make no mistake; if Byrd hits the open market, he's probably a goner.
There will be no shortage of suitors for Byrd's services on the open market. After all, he's in the prime of his career and graded out as a top-10 safety at Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in each of the past three seasons.
Back in November, Chris Wesseling of NFL.com ranked Byrd second in the NFL among all safeties, calling him "a true playmaker."
So what's the problem, Buffalo? Pay the man and move on!
If only it were that simple.
After more than a year of back-and-forth (much of it contentious), Byrd has given absolutely no indication he wants anything less than to be the NFL's highest-paid safety.
|Troy Polamalu||PIT||$9.87 million|
|Eric Berry||KC||$8.34 million|
|Dashon Goldson||TB||$8.25 million|
|Eric Weddle||SD||$8.00 million|
|Antrel Rolle||NYG||$7.42 million|
That would put Byrd's annual salary in the $10 million range, according to spotrac. That's a lot of money for a position that isn't considered a "premium" spot in the NFL, especially since the Bills already have over $30 million in 2014 cap space tied up on the defensive line.
Even then, Rapoport tweeted the Bills made a run at Byrd:
Bills made Jairus Byrd an offer that would’ve made him highest paid S for a portion of his deal. Was rejected. Team still wants to sign him— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 2, 2014
Once Byrd balked at that "best" offer from the Bills, that was essentially all she wrote.
Yes, the Bills could have slapped the franchise tag on Byrd again, and at least one Bills writer is at a loss as why to they didn't:
I would *really* like to hear the justification the #Bills have for not tagging Jairus Byrd. Hard for me to fathom why they wouldn't.— Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) March 3, 2014
Still, that's a move that carried plenty of risk all its own.
Byrd did not take being tagged last year well at all. Another holdout (and the distractions that accompany it) would be a real possibility. In fact, Byrd could sit out most of the season and still accrue a year of service time. And one year from now the team would be right back in the same boat.
Should the Buffalo Bills have franchise tagged Jairus Byrd?
Is one year of an Angry Byrd (sorry...couldn't be helped) really worth the grief?
There are other scenarios (tag-and-trade, etc.) that fans will point to as other possibilities, but it's safe to say those have occurred to the Bills as well. Whaley and head coach Doug Marrone don't want Byrd to just fly the coop any more than the fans.
The Bills have apparently decided that their odds of getting Byrd signed to a long-term deal between now and July aren't any better than the odds of it happening in the next week, and tagging the sixth-year veteran would create as many problems as it solves.
They're trying to make the best of a bad situation.
Not that that makes it any easier for fans to swallow, and it appears that at the end of the day the only people who are going to get what they want are Byrd and the new team that signs him.